Why You Should Never Wait for Inspiration

When I first graduated from college, two of the things that excited me the most was the chance to read books of my own choosing and to have time to work on my writing outside of assigned essays. I loved my life as an English major, but there was never any time for reading or writing outside of my school work, and I relished my newfound freedom.

Unfortunately, the freedom quickly turned out to be more than I could handle. After years of waiting for this moment, reality came crashing down upon me. What would I possibly write about if I’m not told what to write about? What did I have to say outside of the structure of academia? Would anyone even care what I have to say?

These questions preceded months of sitting at my desk, tapping my pen on my notebook, and writing a whole lot of nothing. I would sit there and sit there, getting more frustrated by the day, waiting for inspiration to strike. I had all the time in the world … and absolutely nothing to say. It felt devastating to me.

Looking back now, I can see what I was doing wrong. I was waiting for inspiration to strike. Now I know that’s not how inspiration works. Here’s what I should have done instead:

  • Built a tribe of curious people around me — people who don’t just live, but observe and enjoy talking and debating about what they see, think, and feel

  • Read the works of essayists instead of burying myself in breezy novels (there’s nothing wrong with breezy novels, but we’re best served by reading the kind of works we want to write, and I wanted to write essays)

  • Met as many writers as I could so that I could learn about their processes, how they worked through blocks, and read their work and works in progress

Looking back, I can see that I was trying to write, but I wasn’t building a writer’s life. I was waiting for inspiration to land on my shoulder like a beautiful bird whispering songs into my ear when I should have gone out to find it myself. 

When you feel stuck in your writing, as we all do more often than we want to admit, consider what inspires you. Do you have a friend you can talk to, even if they’re not a writer, who inspires you to think differently about things? Is there an author that lights a fire inside of you every time you read their words? Are there activities you can engage in that clear your mind? All of these things are infinitely more useful than sitting at your desk and despairing over a lack of inspiration.

We writers tend to withdraw from the world so we can observe it, analyze it, and write about it. That’s what makes it easy to forget that we can’t observe the world without living it. Never wait for inspiration. Go out and live, and the inspiration will come.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash